David Bruce: The Funniest People in Dance — Animals, Arguments, Audiences


• In her act, belly dancer Amaya — née Maria Elena Amaya — used a snake that ate three mice a month. Unfortunately, one month the local pet shop ran out of mice, so the pet shop owner suggested, “Three mice = six baby chicks.” However, Amaya remembered what had happened when a belly dancer friend had fed her snake baby chicks. At the conclusion of a dance in Las Vegas, the belly dancer had lifted the snake over her head, and the snake had loudly passed gas. Not only did the snake emit gas, but it also emitted a cloud of baby chick feathers!

• When Rudolf Nureyev was a young child growing up in Ufa, food was scarce and he was frequently hungry. One day, his mother made a long trek through the snow to another village in search of food to feed her family at home. Near nightfall, she noticed yellowish circles of light around her — circles of light that traveled in pairs. Suddenly, she realized that wolves had surrounded her. She took off the blanket she was wearing around her shoulders and set it on fire. Seeing the fire, the wolves fled.

• While studying black dance in Haiti, Katherine Dunham was invited to stay at the home of a friend. However, she smelled something unusual in the house and looked up to see an 8-foot python in the rafters. The snake was a “pet” often kept around Haitian homes to eat rats and mice.


• Early in her career, Martha Graham was a dancer for Denishawn. Both she and Denishawn co-founder Ted Shawn had tempers. One day, while on tour, Ms. Graham called Mr. Shawn to say that she wanted to add a new dance to the tour. Mr. Shawn refused to give her permission to add the dance, so Ms. Graham angrily ripped the telephone out of the wall. On another occasion, they grew angry as they talked over lunch in a New York restaurant. Ms. Graham stood up, grabbed the tablecloth, and pulled it, the dishes, and all the food onto the floor, then she stalked out of the restaurant and into a taxi. Mr. Shawn followed her and screamed at her, “I don’t ever want to see you again in my life! And I mean it!” On both occasions, they quickly made up their differences.

• When Lindy Hop dancer Norma Miller was underage, she had a chance to go to Europe as a member of a dance troupe. The problem was this: How could she convince her mother to let her go? After receiving the offer, she went home and her mother, who was tired, asked her to do a favor — to wash a few things in the sink. Norma asked, “Okay, Ma, but if I wash out your underwear, will you let me go to Europe?” Thinking that Norma was joking, her mother said, “Yes, if you wash those things in the sink, I’ll let you go to Europe.” The next day Norma told her about the offer — and reminded her about her promise to let her go to Europe. After a lot of arguing, and the promise that Norma would be chaperoned, her mother let her go to Europe.


• Agnes de Mille says, “I’m not a Massine fan at all.” When Léonide Massine was at Covent Garden, his fans were numerous and enthusiastic. Ms. de Mille used to attend performances of his works at Covent Garden and be very quiet. Meanwhile, members of the audience would cheer madly, be wildly extravagant in their love for Massine and his art — and glare at Ms. de Mille because she did not share their enthusiasm for all things Massine. One day, Mr. Massine was introduced at Covent Garden as “certainly the greatest choreographer we have living and probably ever have had.” Ms. de Mille immediately thought of Martha Graham and of Antony Tudor.


Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved


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